Katrina victims find new home in Williston

12 family members and friends move to town

By Marianne Apfelbaum
Observer staff

Audrey and Irving Trevigne lived only a block away from each other growing up in New Orleans. They met, fell in love, got married and raised three children in the city they have always called home.

But like thousands of others, their home and everything they owned was washed away on Aug. 28 when Hurricane Katrina barreled into the Gulf Coast, leaving only memories of their former life in its wake.

Sitting in their daughter Ava’s apartment in Maple Tree Place two weeks later, the couple, both 79, are still stunned that “the big one” finally hit.

“All our lives we’ve been through hurricanes, and they always said one day we’re gonna get the big one,” said Irving Trevigne.

“We thought it would be like (Hurricane) Ivan — a big threat — and it wouldn’t come to us,” said Audrey Trevigne.

With nothing more than the clothes on their backs, they got in their car and left with their daughter Cheryl just 18 hours before Katrina hit.

“I said, ‘Let’s go take a ride to Houston,’” said Irving Trevigne. “It was like a little vacation.”

They reached Houston and soon realized this storm was unlike any other they had lived through growing up in the South. They later took a bus to Roanoke, Va. By that time their home, car and everything they owned were destroyed.

They think they will eventually collect insurance money, but that will likely take months. In the meantime, they are relying on the help of family and friends and the kindness of strangers.

“The Red Cross helped us. We got $130 vouchers for clothes and $75 for gas and money for food for the trip,” said Irving Trevigne. “I have no complaints except we lost everything we owned.”

The Trevignes are just two of 12 hurricane victims — members of an extended family and their friends — who relocated to Williston in the days and weeks following the hurricane. Some are staying at a local motel; others are with family members and friends. All are seeking permanent housing.

For now, the Trevignes are staying with their daughter, Ava Andrews, who moved to Williston four years ago. Ava’s daughter, Gina DuVernay, also lives here with her husband and two children on O’Brien Court.

It was Gina DuVernay, in fact, who encouraged the entire family to evacuate while she was in New Orleans for her annual summer visit. She has welcomed family and friends from the city into her home, and is trying to help them find places to live and get back on their feet.

“I moved here five years ago because of the school system, and I’ve been trying to import the family. So (Katrina) was not all bad …my family’s coming up!” she said.

Her husband’s cousin, Edwinn Bernard, arrived last week with his daughter, Amber, who started sixth grade at Williston Central School on Tuesday. Entering the classroom for the first time, all eyes were on her.

“I’m nervous,” she confided. “I feel kinda weird ‘cause I don’t know anybody here.”

The school is trying to accommodate the needs of Amber and other new students. “We’ll be starting new student groups tomorrow to get them acclimated,” said school counselor Carol Bick, who escorted Amber to her new classroom.

Some will have an easier time than others. Kolby Bloom, 6, entered his new classroom early Tuesday morning with his visibly nervous mother, Danielle, by his side. After being introduced to his new teacher, he announced, “I think I like this classroom!”

The Blooms, friends of the DuVernays, evacuated first to Texas. “Our house was right in front of one of the levees in the Gentilly section,” said Danielle Bloom. “Our house was under water. Kolby cried when he found out his school was gone.”

Gina DuVernay told her to come to Vermont to start over. In fact, many families have begun to settle here, according to Rob Levine, executive director of the Northern Vermont Chapter of the American Red Cross.

“Twenty-five self-evacuating cases have been processed through the Northern Vermont Chapter in Burlington,” he said. “I expect some of those folks to settle in Williston.”

Danielle Bloom and her husband are hoping to find work in their respective fields, she in marketing and he in the restaurant business.

Edwinn Bernard, who was a chef at a New Orleans steakhouse for 14 years, hopes to find work as well, and may even start his own restaurant.

“I’m having culture shock,” he said. “I had everything, now we have nothing. That’s what I had to get used to. I just want to get back on my feet. Then I’ll be happy.”

Bernard is among the many victims who are unhappy with President Bush’s response to the disaster. “He moved a little slow,” Bernard said, trying to be diplomatic.

His cousin, Gina DuVernay, was more pointed in her criticism.

“Bush does not care about Louisiana black people,” she said. “You don’t know poverty ‘til you’ve seen Southern poverty.

“It’s because of the crooked politicians. They’re not just crooked, they’re bent,” she said with a laugh, bending sideways to demonstrate the point.

But all the evacuees have nothing but praise for the reception they’ve received in Williston. “People here have been so nice, offering places to stay,” said DuVernay.

Her grandmother agrees. “People are so nice here it’s unbelievable,” said Audrey Trevigne. “ New Orleans was getting violent, even in the nice neighborhoods. This is a calm, peaceful place.”

Like the others, the Trevignes are trying to look toward the future optimistically.
“New Orleans used to be a beautiful place to live,” said Irving Trevigne. “The emphasis now is on bringing tourists to town. In the rest of the city, the administration doesn’t care one way or another. I’m glad we’re up here myself. I just hope we can make it here.”